Soundings 2014: Meet the composers. Introducing Joanna Lee


Time to introduce the second composer of Soundings 2014: Joanna Lee. Joanna is based in England and is currently very busy composing a children’s opera for the English National Opera.

Hi Joanna! Please introduce yourself.

I trained as a classical pianist, singer and violinist as a child, transferring to composition in my late teens upon realising I preferred the creativity, innovation and seclusion of being a composer, not to mention being my own musical boss! I compose in a variety of classical genres – I’ve written for London Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and English National Opera. I find a particular enjoyment and specialism for vocal music, music theatre and opera, stemming from the tradition of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and through the experimentation of the 1950s-70s by Berio, Kagel & Cage, and into the modern day. For the past 18 months, I’ve been composing English National Opera’s first children’s opera alongside director Katie Mitchell, looking at bringing new and challenging opera to a young audience.

What do you expect from Soundings?

Joanna Lee - Photo 2
Joanna Lee

I expect Soundings to be a wonderful opportunity to meet, collaborate and discuss with a group of talented composers and musicians, who will each bring new perspectives, thoughts and ideas, and an exciting array of different musical styles to enjoy and be inspired by.

Who or what inspires you?

I find inspiration in many different sources. It might by poetry, for example I own E.E. Cummings’ entire catalogue of works, or I enjoy the art of L.S.Lowry. I may find a particular musical idea I wish to explore, instigated by the work of other composers; some of my favourite pieces include The Importance of Being Earnest by Gerald Barry, Greek by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Where the Wild Things Are by Oliver Knussen and Aventures by György Ligeti. I’ve had a longstanding fascination with the mechanics of the voice, linguistics and phonology. Theatricality, characters and dramatic settings hold a strong source of inspiration for me.

In what context would you like a piece of yours to be performed? 

My ultimate desire would be to have a full scale opera performed on one of the major opera stages, for example the Royal Opera House or the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Collaborating and composing for Barbara Hannigan would be amazing, as would writing a piece for voice/s with symphony orchestra.



Joanna Lee is currently completing a PhD in composition at Birmingham Conservatoire. Described by The Guardian as “a considerable talent”, Joanna’s compositions have been shortlisted for a British Composer Award and Arts Foundation Opera Composition Award, featured in Premieres of the Year in Classical Music magazine and her first chamber opera received the Stephen Oliver Award.

Joanna is currently working on a new commission for English National Opera with director Katie Mitchell.  Recent projects include a commission for EXAUDI, a Jerwood Opera Fellowship and a residency at Aldeburgh composing a piece for Aldeburgh Music Club to celebrate 60 years since their founding by Benjamin Britten, including a performance in the Britten Centenary Weekend 2013. Performances include London Symphony Orchestra, BCMG, Psappha, CHROMA, Orchestra of the Swan, Elysian Quartet, Loré Lixenberg, Omar Ebrahim and the Fidelio Trio.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s